Proving Medical Child Abuse: The Time Is Now for Ohio to Focus on the Victim and Not the Abuser

By Allison, Tiffany S. | Journal of Law and Health, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Proving Medical Child Abuse: The Time Is Now for Ohio to Focus on the Victim and Not the Abuser


Allison, Tiffany S., Journal of Law and Health


I. INTRODUCTION

II. THE SHIFT FROM MUNCHAUSEN'S SYNDROME BY PROXY TO
    MEDICAL CHILD ABUSE

    A. What Is Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy?

    B. Elements of Proof for Munchausen's Syndrome by
       Proxy

    C. History of Medical Child Abuse

    D. Cases Involving Medical Child Abuse

    E. New Elements of Proof for Medical Child Abuse

    F. Key Differences Between Munchausen's Syndrome by
       Proxy and Medical Child Abuse

III. LEGISLATION

    A. Ohio's Current Legislation That Effects Medical
       Child Abuse

    B. Federal Legislation Regarding Child Abuse

    C. The Law in Other States: A Statutory Review

       1. Rhode Island
       2. Texas

    D. The Future of Ohio Legislation

IV. THE EFFECT AND IMPACT OF OHIO'S NEW LAWS

    A. The Effect on Physicians and Other Health Care
       Practitioners

    B. Programs Implemented by Hospitals

    C. Best Interest of the Child

V. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

"Medical child abuse" is a term unfamiliar to most lay people and many individuals in the medical community. In fact, the term evokes an erroneous image of medical professionals abusing their minor patients. (1) Medical child abuse, however, is not a new phenomenon. It is merely a new term for the better-known phenomenon of "Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy." (2) This Note discusses the differences between medical child abuse and Munehausen's Syndrome by Proxy and why professionals in the medical community are pushing for the use of a broader term, such as medical child abuse, (3) or simply, child abuse that occurs in a medical setting. (4) "Medical child abuse occurs when a child receives unnecessary and harmful or potentially harmful medical care at the instigation of a caretaker," (5) wherein the caregiver is most likely the mother of the child. (6)

To understand the medical child abuse phenomenon, the following case study illustrates the typical interaction between the abusive caregiver and the medical provider and the insufficient, yet predictable, outcome produced by our current legal framework. In Ellis County, Texas, Susan Hyde medically abused her three daughters by subjecting them to more than one hundred-fifty emergency room visits over the course of four years. (7) The girls were treated for "cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, headaches and seizures." (8) Hyde used her knowledge as a paramedic to deceive doctors into believing that one of her daughters needed a feeding tube and another needed a wheelchair, leg braces, and a safety helmet. (9) Hyde "doctor shopped" by seeking out medical professionals in Texas, Nebraska, and Iowa. (10) Hyde would then change medical professionals before anyone detected a pattern of abuse. (11) After the investigation began, Hyde's paramedic certification was revoked. (12)

The Assistant District Attorney for the Crimes Against Children Unit of Tarrant County, Texas, stated that "[o]ur laws are not written to prosecute cases such as these." (13) The Assistant District Attorney also felt that the inability of the criminal justice system to prosecute parents for medical child abuse "is a problem, and there should be some way to incorporate these cases in our laws to be able to protect children from situations such as this." (14) Unfortunately, it is usually difficult to catch medical child abuse perpetrators because their "doctor shopping" habits may span several different states. (15)

Some generalizations can be made regarding the typical medical child abuse perpetrator. For example, the perpetrating caregiver is generally the minor patient's mother. (16) Additionally, the caregivers know what they are doing and often have a medical background. (17) Further, these perpetrators are generally excessively attentive, concerned with the medical staff and crave the attention they receive from medical professionals when they bring their children in to be treated. (18) Perpetrators may seek "care, warmth, affection, and attention" because her needs were ignored or neglected.

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